FRUSTRATED Leeds Rhinos head coach Brian McDermott described being confirmed in the Qualifiers as a “dent to the pride” of the fallen Super League champions.
Their hopes of avoiding the embarrassment of finishing in the bottom-four were ended yesterday when Widnes Vikings – the side they were looking to usurp from eighth spot – beat them 23-22 at Headingley. Joe Mellor’s 79th minute drop-goal put the visitors in front for the first and only time in the game but it sent Leeds crashing to their 16th defeat of a dismal campaign.
They remain bottom with only three regular games to go and, incredibly, must now accept they are open to the risk of relegation when the Middle Eights begin next month.
Championship frontrunners Leigh Centurions and London Broncos are secured in the Qualifiers while West Yorkshire quartet Halifax, Batley Bulldogs, Bradford Bulls and Featherstone Rovers are fighting out for the remaining two spots for second-tier teams.
After the three-time World Club champions’ spectacular fall from the grace, McDermott admitted: “This has been a dent to the pride – it isn’t what we’re about.
“There are certain things which have happened this year which are out of our control – Kirkstall (training base flooded) and the injuries have played a part – but there are some things along the way we’ve had to do better.
“If you take into context what today meant it’s a very tough one.
“Everyone is highly disappointed and there’s some anger and frustration – which we get – but I thought that was a good performance.
“You’d give the overall performance a thumbs-up.
“In terms of us and our own story we’re still getting better – and we’re trying to be as good as we can be.
“We’ve been on that journey for a while now, and we want to go into the Qualifiers in the best shape possible.”Leeds, seeking a third successive win, had taken a 22-10 lead on 51 minutes.
But meek defence hurt them again as Widnes - who had not won at Headingley since 2002 - levelled before the hour.
They were unfortunate, however, not to get a penalty in front of the posts moments before Mellor’s decisive act.
Twice Widnes players seemed to illegally interfere as Leeds tried setting up Danny McGuire for a drop goal attempt.
McDermott, whose side head to leaders Hull FC this Friday, said: “I’ve never rung the referees on a Monday and asked them to justify anything.
“But you wonder if we’re at the back of the queue at times like this.
“I believe my strategy is right in that we always try to do what is right, and it’s unbelievably frustrating when you don’t see a balance between what’s getting called for and against us.”
But he conceded: “When they got within one try of us we started to panic - we got jittery and that was disappointing.
“When we were attacking their line in the second half we were very panicky.
“There were some moments where we didn’t have enough composure and a couple of individual errors were costly in the end.”